Tied for the lead with the hardest worker in golf in Vijay Singh, Rory McIlroy will resume his weather-delayed third round in the US PGA with the world’s hungriest Australian and a host of major winners breathing down his neck.
The 23-year old former US Open champion is determined to win his second major title at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course when he resumes play at 12.45 Irish time today.
But while he shares top spot on six under par with Singh, who is bidding to become the game’s oldest major winner at the age of 49, McIlroy knows he will need to produce the perfect combination of luck and talent that saw him retrieve a wayard drive that had become embedded in a tree and save a brilliant par that kept a sensational third round charge on full throttle.
The Ulsterman birdied five of the first eight holes but while he bogeyed the ninth just before play was halted, he could reflect on a remarkable par at the third as the key moment of his day.
Following back to back birdies at the first and second, TV pictures revealed that his drive on the third had become lodged in a tree. He’d been searching in vain for three minutes for his ball before he was alerted to the fact that it was stuck in a branch just eight feet off the ground.
And while he was forced to declare his ball unplayable, he got up and down for par, holing a clutch seven foot putt before picking up further birdies at the par-three fifth and eighth and the par-five seventh to storm two strokes clear of the field on seven under par.
A bogey at the ninth coupled with Singh’s simultaneous birdie at the par-five seventh , left him joint top when play was halted by an approaching thunderstorm storm and eventually abandoned for the day.
With 27 holes to play, McIlroy and Singh are just one stroke clear of Adam Scott, who is attempting to follow in McIlroy’s footsteps and win a major just weeks after throwing one away.
The last time McIlroy tangled with a tree in the US PGA was just 12 months ago, when he jarred his wrist off a tree root in the first round and needed hospital treatment.
“I’m just glad I didn’t try and play that ball from the tree,” he chuckled.
“I’m like, how can it be stuck in this thing? There’s no branches, no leaves for it to be stuck in. But it had wedged itself in between the tree bark and the actual tree, so I was just happy to get it up and down for four and move on to the next. I thought it was very important to do that, especially after birdieing the first two holes.”
McIlroy has done what he set out to do so far this week - put himself in position to win another major.
While Tiger Woods, struggling with his driving and putting again, dropped three shot in the first seven holes to fall five behind alongside the likes of Padraig Harrington (69) on one under par, there is a posse of top players on his trail.
Level par through eight holes, Sweden’s Carl Pettersson is just two behind McIlroy and Singh on four under with Bo Van Pelt in the clubhouse on three under after a 67.
Former Masters champion Trevor Immelman is also three under with eight holes to go while the two unders include pal Graeme McDowell (11 holes), Ian Poulter (eight) and Swede Peter Hanson (12).
“It was a great start, the start that I was looking to get off to,” said McIlroy. “I saw that a few guys early in the day got off to good starts and I wanted to try to do that, too. To be four under through nine is a great position to be in.
“It’s nice going into the final day, hopefully, if we get it finished, in a great position. And it being 27 holes, I definitely don’t mind. I don’t mind if it takes a while to get done.”
Buoyed by his share of fifth in Akron last week, he added: “I’ve come in here with a little bit of confidence from the way I played last week. It’s just been nice to take that into this week and show it out on the golf course. You know, there’s still a lot of guys with a chance to win going into tomorrow; 27 holes left, you’ve still got a long way to go.”
Harrington threatened to go low early on when he made four birdies without a blemish to turn in 32 before a double bogey six at the 10th halted his charge. He parred his way to the 17th, missing several key putts, but holed a bunker shot for birdie at the penultimate hole and then got up and down from a bunker for par from 35 yards at the 18th to get in on one under with a 69.
“It was a good round overall,” Harrington said. “There were some highs, and made a very bad double bogey on 10, but I got it going right on the last couple holes.
“I finished it off solid, that kind of makes up for it. I think through 16 holes I felt like I’d left a number of shots out there but to hole a bunker shot on 17 and then to get up and down from 35 yards on the last I’ve got to be comfortable; that’s the score I sort of deserved today.”
Harrington closed with two 66s to win the PGA the last time the third round was completed on a Sunday morning. This time he’s finished until the final round begins off two tees between 1644 and 1845. And he’s hoping the wind is blowing for he leaders when they resume.
“It could be a good break, but it could be a bad break, as well,” he said. “We’ll just have to wait and see how it all pans out.
“I would have settled for the guys to play the same conditions we played in and have them play the back nine in the wind because the back nine was a lot tougher than the front nine and there’s not too many to make too much headway on the front nine.
“This weather could change everything. The guys could come back out after this and it could be flat calm and they could make some numbers. I would have rather it just stayed the way it was, the same conditions as we played.
“Who knows what’s going to happen now. Obviously I’m one under par. What’s it, six under leading now? Six under is not too far away, but if there’s a lot of guys up there at six under or if there’s a few more, it’s too much for me to do tomorrow maybe. But if four under is in the last couple of groups, it means one under still has a chance.”
If one under has a chance, the two unders are even better placed and McDowell is hoping to get to four under over his last six holes this morning and put himself in position to strike in the final round.
Faced with an approach from the rough on the 12th, he said: “I’ve just to go out with all guns blazing and try and finish three or four under.”
Woods had resumed as joint leader with Singh but missed a three foot birdie chance at the first and followed that by hooking into the crowd off the second tee. He then bogeyed the short fifth and the 579 yard seventh to slip five off the lead and into a share of 11th on one under.
“I got off to a rough start today and could’nt get anything going,” Woods said when explaing his misses on the greens and poor driving. “I’ll come back tomorrow morning and see what happens. There are a lot of holes left to play.”
Darren Clarke is tied for 47th on five over after a level par 72.